The countdown to Cheltenham continues and it is hard to believe there is less than a month to go before the big one. We have decided to look back at some of the Cheltenham heroes of the past in the coming weeks and hopefully you enjoyed reading about the legendary Moscow Flyer last time. It is the turn of another horse of the people this week, and below we look back at the many highs (and occasional lows) of the career of the one and only ‘King’ Kauto Star.
The Early Days
Kauto Star was born in France in March 2000 and few could have predicted how his career would go by looking at his pedigree. His now deceased sire, Village Star, was more hit than miss as a stallion while his dam, Kauto Relka, was a listed chase winner at 2m4f. He certainly wasn’t bred to be a multiple Grade 1 winning staying chaser but that was Kauto Star, a horse that never seemed to stick to the script.
His racing career started in France over hurdles as a 3yo and after losing his first race he reeled off three wins in a row, including a Listed hurdle at Auteuil. He failed to win on his next five starts, but he signed off on his French career with a commanding 8L win in a 19.5f Grade 3 at Auteuil. That victory earned him the nickname ‘L’Extraterrestre’ (The Extra-terrestrial) in France and it convinced Clive Smith to part with £400k and take Kauto Star to the UK, where he would be trained by Paul Nicholls.
Jumping Frailties And First Signs Of Greatness
Kauto Star made his eagerly anticipated UK debut in a class 3 Novice’s Chase at Newbury in December 04 and he cruised to an easy win, 9L ahead of Foreman. His next start came in a similar race at Exeter and this was the first sign that Kauto Star could be something really special.
It looked as though he had the race in the bag approaching the second last, but he ploughed through it and took a heavy fall. Ruby Walsh quickly caught him, remounted without his irons and just barely failed to get back up for the win, missing out by a short head to Mistral De La Cour.
He picked up a season ending injury in that race, but he showed the grit, determination and class that would endear him to the British public in future years. He picked up his first Grade 1 win the following season in the 2 mile Tingle Creek at Sandown, before falling early on in the Arkle Chase won by Newmill.
2006/7-The Triple Crown
Kauto Star announced his arrival as a true superstar of the sport in 2006/7. A 21L win in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase (20f) at Aintree on his seasonal reappearance was a taste of things to come. Next followed a spectacular demolition job on the field in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the first leg of the staying chaser’s triple crown.
Kempton and the King George, a race that will be forever associated with Kauto Star, was next on the agenda and he overcame a characteristic last fence blunder to score by 8L from Exotic Dancer. He warmed up for the big one, The Gold Cup, with a narrow win in the Aon Chase at Newbury and the scene was now set for him to make his mark on the biggest stage of all.
He was sent off at just 5/4 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where old rival Exotic Dancer was viewed as the main threat. Kauto Star was ridden patiently out the back by Walsh and he was produced to perfection at the second last. He put in a spring heeled leap to take the lead, and a trademark blunder at the last wasn’t enough to check his momentum and he powered up the hill for a famous victory.
Kauto Star would go on to win his second King George in spectacular style in December 2007, but he came unstuck in the Gold Cup later in the Spring. Denman beat him by 7L and, when he was beaten in a Grade 2 at Aintree next time by Old Vic, it looked as though King Kauto may well be on the slide.
However, his third win in the King George at Kempton in 2008 showed there was life left in the old dog yet and that 8L defeat of Alberta’s Run meant he headed into his rematch with Denman in The Gold Cup of 2009 as the 7/4 favourite. He turned the form of 2008 around in scintillating fashion, producing the performance of a lifetime to come home in front in splendid isolation, 13L ahead of his stablemate. He is the only horse to regain a Gold Cup after losing it the year previously.
In 2009 he produced one of the most thrilling displays of all time when absolutely hosing up in the King George, for the fourth time. He won by 36L, beating the previous record winning distance of 30L by Arkle and earning an official rating of 193, the highest ever achieved by a chaser. Timeform handed him a rating of 191, level with Mill Reef and behind only Flyingbolt and the great Arkle himself.
The Last Hurrah
King Kauto would never regain his Gold Cup crown, falling in 2010 and finishing third in 2011. He also lost his King George Crown in 2010 (run in Jan 2011) when finishing only 3rd behind Long Run. The naysayers were out in force when he was pulled up at Punchestown on his final start of the season in 2011, and the general consensus was that the now 11yo should be retired.
Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith had other ideas, and their decision to persist with the old boy looked vindicated when he avenged both the King George and Gold Cup defeats by slamming Long Run by 8L in the Betfair Chase. Next up was a return to Kempton for the King George and the bookies made Long Run even money to reverse the Haydock form.
Kauto Star was sent off at 3/1, and the soon to be 12yo rolled back the years to beat his younger rival by 1.5L and send the Kempton crowd into raptures. He travelled and jumped beautifully, and there was no mistake at the last this time. It was his fifth win in the race, a record that will be difficult to break.
Emotions were running high as King Kauto made his way back into the winner’s enclosure for what would be the final time, and the reception he received will live long in the memory. He was pulled up on his last ever start in the Gold Cup in 2012, but his place in racing folklore was already ensured before that effort.
The history books will show that Kauto Star was one of the best steeplechasers of all time. His 31 starts over fences yielded an astonishing 19 wins, with 16 of those victories coming at the highest level. Including bonuses, he earned almost £4 million in prize money and his record of five King George VI wins will be difficult to surpass.
His ability to battle back from adversity is what he will be ultimately remembered for and the tributes poured in when the news broke of his tragic passing in 2015. His trainer Paul Nicholls said, “I’ve been very lucky to have trained some incredible horses but I’ve always said he’s once in a lifetime. Even after he was written off, to come back and win his fourth Betfair Chase and a fifth King George said everything about him. He was just an amazing horse”. A fitting tribute to a horse that transcended the sport and ‘King Kauto’ is a proper hero who will be remembered fondly for years to come.